Ashes and snow
Ash Wednesday, and snow is falling again. We drive the twelve miles or so to church through a steady white drizzle.
Highland cattle huddle like dirty haystacks, snowy backs to the wind. A pheasant picks his way across a field of stubble, his rich bronze feathers the only colour in a landscape leached of pigment. Every black branch in a wood is sketched in white. The details of farmhouse, hedges, walls have been rubbed away, re-drawn as mere pencil scribbles on a white page, like the first outlines of a new painting.
In church, the priest smears our foreheads with a cross of black ashes made from the burning of last year’s Palm Sunday palms, saying to each of us,
‘Remember, you are dust, and to dust you will return.’
I expect the ash to feel warm, like the chrism oil of confirmation, but it is cold. Cold as death.
The flowers have been removed from the church. There is no music in the service. Afterwards, we emerge sooty-headed into the still falling snow.
The feeling in the church was not one of mourning, however, but of cleansing. Cleansing ashes: a rich austerity. This morning I read in a prayer book that the word ‘Lent’ derives from the Old English word for springtime. This is a season of new beginnings. After the ashes of our old ways lie cold, we have the chance to kindle a new resolve and hope, culminating in the fulfilment of Easter.
‘Now, now – it is the Lord who speaks –
come back to me with all your heart’.
Back home again, I let the dogs out into the newly white world. We walk past the cherry tree beside the house. It is starting to droop a little under the weight of snow, but its frail looking branches are thick with buds of a warm and lively pink.
You might like ‘A rose-tinted Sunday’.